The Dr Francis de Hamel Collection
Francis de Hamel was born in 1923 into a family of industrials in the Midlands, UK and had initially wanted to train as a vet. However, as the Second World War developed the imminent need for doctors increased and instead Francis studied medicine at Oxford University, where he also rowed for two successful years in the annual boat race against Cambridge. At Oxford he met and later married Joan Pollock (later de Hamel), celebrated children’s writer and author of ‘Take the Long Path’ and ‘Hemi’s Pet’
After the war seeking new opportunities, Francis looked to New Zealand and took up a contract with the New Zealand Department of Health. In medicine his interest was chest diseases, it was this that brought him to Christchurch and the Health Department’s Mass X-Ray unit. He was a keen ornithologist and was selected as the Scott Base doctor and ornithologist for the 1957-58 summer season, going south on the ‘little wooden warship’ Endeavour. Later Francis became an Associate Professor in the Department of Social and Preventive Medicine, Otago.
Upon retirement in 1988 he put his energy into an extensive garden and a farmlet he had bought with his wife Joan, developing an angora goat stud.
Inspired by his mother who had been a collector of ceramics and silver, Francis spent the rest of his time building a collection of Chinese ceramics with a focus on the Song Dynasty era. Starting by subscribing to Sotheby’s and Christies auction catalogues, buying reference books and reading, Francis would meticulously research before placing postal, phone and fax bids at international auction houses.
By the mid-1990’s he had amassed a collection of around 100 items, which he displayed in a glass-fronted cabinet in his lounge at his Macandrew Bay home. He loved the forms, the colour, and the technical skill of producing such delicately-formed pieces. On frequent trips to China, Hong Kong and England he visited dealers and galleries, buying and further building his knowledge and experience. Diligently cataloguing every piece with precise detail, noting comparisons to similar pieces in publications in his library (also offered in this collection). All of Dr de Hamels notes are available on the online catalogue on our website.
In later years his purchasing slowed, but the collection retained its overall size, variety and balance.
In 2014 Francis passed away in Dunedin at the age of 91.